Md. judge bars interrogation video in slaying of principal Brian Betts

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 11:14 PM

A video showing the police interrogation of one of the suspects in the slaying of principal Brian Betts will not be shown at the man's trial because of law enforcement mistakes, according to a judge's order made public Thursday.

The ruling, issued by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge, is a victory for Alante Saunders, 19, the first of four defendants set to be tried on charges of murdering Betts, a popular middle-school principal in the District.

The Saunders trial, scheduled to start Nov. 15, will be followed by separate trials for the three other defendants.

Just how significant the victory is for Saunders isn't clear. There is no indication that Saunders admitted to participating in the April slaying in Betts's Silver Spring house. And if prosecutors were allowed to play the video at trial, jurors would hear Saunders say repeatedly that he wanted to quit talking.

"I don't have anything else to say," he said at one point.

"I ain't saying nothing else," he said at another.

Prosecutors have other evidence against Saunders, according to police accounts filed in court. His fingerprints were found on the outside and inside of Betts's sport-utility vehicle, which was stolen from Betts's driveway the night he was killed.

After the slaying, surveillance cameras captured Saunders's image during transactions made with Betts's credit cards, according to police accounts.

At issue in the judge's order was when and how two Montgomery County detectives informed Saunders of his Miranda rights to remain silent and have an attorney present.

Saunders was arrested May 3. He was ushered into an interview room at Montgomery police headquarters. The room is a small space with three chairs, a table and video and audio equipment.

Before Saunders was informed of his Miranda rights, a detective asked him simple questions such as his name and age, according to a description of the interrogation aired at a court hearing last week.

But during this "pre-Miranda" phase of the interview, a second detective presented information about the case and warned Saunders that his friends were in legal peril, statements that were "reasonably likely to elicit some response from the defendant," Judge John W. Debelius wrote.

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